Joy is seldom discussed these days.
Happiness is a regular topic of conversation. We also take into consideration fulfillment and purpose. Why has joy gone out of fashion? Is it perhaps because joy is a matter of the soul? Happiness comes in a wide assortment of colors: fun, adventure, and comfort. Purpose emanates from understanding one’s strengths and passions, and intentionally pursuing their call? Both happiness and purpose add vibrancy to life. But joy is elusive primarily because it comes from within and is the fruit of such qualities as humility, compassion, and service. Its enemies are hurry, noise, and excess.
Joy is elusive.
Realizing this, what can move us in the direction of joy? What is the character of joy?
First, joy understands that perfection is an illusion.
We live in a broken world and are broken people. We all have areas where we can grow. Every effort can be improved if we look closely enough.
Second, joy lives beyond circumstances.
It would be naïve to suggest that the circumstances do not play a huge part in our emotional well-being. Stress and suffering are debilitating. A positive attitude cannot overcome difficult trials. But true joy originates deep within us. It is a quality of character. As such, it is possible to still experience joy in the midst of hardship. Real joy comes from knowing we are loved. Knowing this, we can choose to love and serve others even in the midst of our own difficulties. Ironically, I have seen joy most evident in many I have known who are suffering from cancer because they have an undeniable perspective and choose to focus beyond their own pain. It’s not easy in the slightest, but they show that joy can coexist with hardship and suffering.
Third, joy finds its home in meaningful relationships.
Perhaps the most obvious reason I allow myself to continue to pursue “too much” is that deep down I am convinced that “things” will make me happy. As I have reached a more “mature” age, I count family and friends as much more precious than success. While relationships can be a source of pain and frustration, investing in a right relationship with God and right relationship with those closest to us is the clearest path to lasting joy.
Moving toward simplicity in our areas of overload and excess is an invaluable step in the direction of joy. Making room for relationship and resisting the lure of perfectionism helps immensely. Joy cannot be acquired overnight, but it can be cultivated through growing contentment and deepening relationship.